Stanford educators have created a series of lesson plans for middle and high school students based on the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown. Free for download on Edutopia, the lessons use source documents and discussion to delve into the complexities of the controversy.
“If there was ever an opportunity to design learning conditions in America’s classrooms that would allow for critical thinking about a volatile, timely, and tragic event grounded in a close analysis of documents (i.e., grand jury testimony), this was it,” they write in the Edutopia blurb accompanying what they call a mini unit.
They explain their approach quoting Oscar Wilde’s insightful quip, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
The goals of the lessons are to explore how “the truth” is shaped by our biases – be they from race, gender or culture – and specifically which version of the truth the Ferguson grand jury believed, and why.
The deep, complex, and challenging issues around race and class ... continue to present us with a teachable moment.
Teachable Moments and Academic Rigor, Edutopia
They lay out four lessons: The first talks about points of view, having students look at eyewitness accounts of the shooting and study how the versions change by who is telling the story.
The second zeroes in on conflicting accounts, having students evaluate credibility and examine why they believe one over the other. Third, the students compare the officer’s account and grand jury testimony to evaluate eyewitness truthfulness.
The fourth and final lesson has students lay out a case for the conclusions they drew from the evidence, structured as what sounds like a formal student debate.
All told, the lessons lay out a blueprint for a civil discussion of civic unrest.
Though on the face of it, the recent riots appear to have been all about race, a thoughtful blog about Baltimore’s violence by Pedro Noguera blames deep cultural and economic divides.
The rioting over police shootings diverts attention from the root causes of unrest, Noguera writes, listing “widespread poverty, chronic interpersonal violence, and a nonfunctioning economy where work is scarce and drug trafficking is pervasive.”
“What has passed for ‘normal’ in Baltimore and countless other communities like it throughout America is unsustainable, and should be seen as unacceptable,” Noguera writes.
Addressing this trend gives our society one more tool to further change, and helps America’s children learn ways to be engaged and responsible citizens.
Teachable Moments and Academic Rigor, Edutopia
The work of two Harvard economists appears to support that premise, linking where children grow up to their chances for a better life as adults. In “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility,” Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren say they have documented a causal relationship between where kids live and what they earn later.
Proving location causes the problem was a key point for them, because conventional wisdom says existing differences simply put those with poor prospects in the same place.
They based the study on tax records of more than 5 million children whose families moved across counties from 1996 to 2012. Looking at where they moved and when, and comparing it to later earnings, they found every year matters in future earning potential, college attendance and probability of having children as teens.
Their results held for kids moving to better areas, and in reverse to children moving to lower-income areas. Comparing siblings showed the same upward (or downward) trend tied to their age when the family moved.
Areas with high crime rates and a large fraction of single parents generate particularly negative outcomes for boys relative to girls.
“The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility” summary
Two California counties made their lists of 10 best and 10 worst counties to which to move. Contra Costa in the Bay Area ranked fifth, with a 0.61 percent improvement in earnings found for every year of childhood spent there, compared with the later earnings of poor kids nationwide. Moving to Fresno County, 95th in their study, cost kids 0.65 percent in future earnings for every year growing up there.
The New York Times’ The Upshot offers an interactive map of all counties. Stanislaus, despite its proximity to Fresno, is a plus for poor kids, adding $1,360 to annual income for kids who move here as babies (about $70 per year of childhood). Rich kids moving here will do worse, the text notes, but the graphic focuses on what a move will change for poor kids.
By that measuring stick, Stanislaus County looks better than neighboring Santa Clara, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, where a poor kid would do only slightly better, $420, $620 and $840 a year in higher earnings respectively.
Stanislaus is no Contra Costa, where baby newcomers can hope to make $3,170 more per year, but it sure beats San Joaquin, where new arrivals will make $1,020 less per year than poor kids make on average. Merced County also has a negative effect, with infants moving in likely to earn $770 less than average a year as adults.
All of which adds up to an imperative to raise educational levels here and attract better-paying jobs, making it economically sensible for our college and university graduates to stay put, improving civic life and economic outlook for everyone.
Speakers announcing the Stanislaus Education Partnership in June alluded to that generational spiral, and their hopes to get it moving decidedly upward.
This study suggests every year counts in making that happen.